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This study suggests you should sanitize your N95 masks in rice or electric cookers

Published on:8 August 2020, 17:30pm IST
If you want to decontaminate your N95 respirators inside and out, all it will take is 50 minutes of dry heat in an electric or rice cooker.
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You don’t have to throw away your N95 masks after each use if you follow the suggestions of this study. Image courtesy: Shutterstock
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Electric multi-cookers come with multiple benefits when it comes to preparing food. But here’s one use that we bet no one saw coming. Turns out, they can effectively sanitize N95 masks, according to a study.

Civil and environmental engineering professors and study authors, Thanh Helen Nguyen and Vishal Verma found that if you want to decontaminate your N95 respirators inside and out, without affecting the filtration and fit, all it takes is 50 minutes of dry heat in an electric cooker. 

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Even if you don’t have an electric cooker, don’t worry. A normal rice cooker can also do the job! With limited supplies of respirators, this discovery now enables people to reuse them even though they were originally intended to be a one-time-use commodity.  

prevent coronavirus
N95 facial mask is an effective way to curb coronavirus transmission, it’s not foolproof. Image courtesy: Shutterstock

These findings from the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign study was published in the journal Environmental Science and Technology Letters. 

“A cloth mask or surgical mask protects others from droplets the wearer might expel, but a respirator mask protects the wearer by filtering out smaller particles that might carry the virus,” Nguyen says.

A high demand for these masks during the covid-19 pandemic has led to shortages of their availability for health care and essential workers. Thus creates a need for economical use of the N-95 masks.

“There are many different ways to sterilize something, but most of them will destroy the filtration or the fit of an N95 respirator,” Verma said.

He further added that “Any sanitation method would need to decontaminate all surfaces of the respirator, but equally important is maintaining the filtration efficacy and the fit of the respirator to the face of the wearer. Otherwise, it will not offer the right protection.” 

novel coronavirus
Place your bet on N95 mask if you want to stay away from the havoc of novel coronavirus. Image courtesy: Shutterstock.

How can a cooker decontaminate the mask?
The major three criteria for making it safe and practical to reuse these masks are decontamination, filtration, and fit–without requiring special preparation or leaving any chemical residue. The researchers hypothesized that dry heat might be a method to meet all three criteria. While looking for a method that could be widely taken up, they decided to test an electric cooker, a type of device many people have in their pantries.

They verified that one cooking cycle, which maintains the contents of the cooker at around 100 degrees Celsius decontaminated the masks, inside and out, from four different classes of the virus, including a coronavirus – and in fact, were more effective as compare to ultraviolet light. 

N95 masks
These electric cookers sanitized N-95 masks better than ultraviolet lights! Image courtesy: Shutterstock

The researchers tested this method for filtration and fit
“We built a chamber in my aerosol-testing lab specifically to look at the filtration of the N95 respirators, and measured particles going through it. The respirators maintained their filtration capacity of more than 95% and kept their fit, still properly seated on the wearer’s face, even after 20 cycles of decontamination in the electric cooker,” Verma said.

The researchers even filmed a demonstration video of how to do it. These are the things you must remember while sanitizing your mask, according to them:
1. The heat must be dry heat with no water added to the cooker
2. The temperature should be maintained at 100 degrees Celsius for 50 minutes
3. Cover the bottom of the cooker with a towel to avoid direct contact of the respirator with the heating element to stop it from melting

According to the researchers, multiple masks can be stacked to fit inside the cooker at the same time.

(With inputs from ANI)

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